Alfons Adam at the award ceremony in his home town Verden.

Federal Cross of Merit for Daimler Employee Alfons Adam.

June 08, 2020 – Our colleague Alfons Adam has been awarded Germany's Federal Cross of Merit (Bundesverdienstkreuz) on Friday. Congratulations!

Alfons Adam has worked for the company since 1981, initially as a maintenance engineer in the press shop at our Bremen site. Since 1994 he has acted as a representative for severely disabled employees at the Bremen plant. He was appointed Group and General Representative for the severely disabled at Daimler ten years ago, and holds the office of General Representative to this day. He is also the representative and delegate for the 'IG Metall' metalworkers' union. For his efforts on behalf of individuals with disabilities in training, his tireless commitment to achieving accessibility in the plants and his involvement at both local and federal government level, he was honored with the badge of honor by Peter Bohlmann, head of the district authority of Verden – Verden in Northwest Germany is Adam’s home town.

Disability policy is my life's work. And being given recognition for that is a fantastic reward.

Alfons Adam

The Federal Cross of Merit is awarded for particular achievements in the political, economic, cultural, intellectual or voluntary realm. It is the only general order of merit awarded in Germany and is thus the highest tribute the Federal Republic of Germany can pay to individuals for services to the nation. We had the chance to speak to Alfons Adam about the honor.

Daimler employee Alfons Adam received the German Order of Merit for his efforts on behalf of people with disabilities.

First of all, our sincere congratulations, Mr Adam. What was your first thought when you heard that you were to be awarded the Federal Cross of Merit?

This is a very special award and I am thrilled to receive it. I was notified by telephone to begin with, but because I felt a little uncomfortable talking about myself I didn't actually tell anyone to begin with. Not even my wife. The call was then followed by a letter, which I did then show to my wife. She was delighted for me and said: "You really deserve it." Without the support of my family, our company and so many friends in the political sphere, however, I would never have been able to do this job well enough for it to be honored with the Federal Cross of Merit.

What motivates you to devote yourself to supporting people with disabilities?

Largely my own experiences, in my family and during my childhood. It has always disturbed me to see people being treated unfairly. As a child I learned that there are some people who will always have it easy and others for whom life is more difficult, who have to scrabble around for every dime. And I also experienced the effect that illness can have on people and how they can become complete outsiders as a result. If you don't have much money, if your health isn't good, if you are handicapped in some way, you are never going to be in the front row. That is the group of people that it can be particularly rewarding to focus on, in my view. In my own family, I was the carer for the four people who brought me up. The issues of age and disability are often not that dissimilar. That has shaped me. I know how challenging it can be when you have to fight for everything. I'm severely disabled myself, so I know exactly what that means. There are so many visits to doctors, operations and rehab sessions, all of which take their toll. We really don't need to punish disabled people even further by making their life difficult because access is restricted, or because they don't get the same chances on the labor market.

You've been working for many years now to support people with disabilities. What have you achieved and seen implemented so far?

My first major project, back in the day, was to raise awareness for the role of disability representative and to see it recognized. Judging by the feedback, that is something that my colleagues and I have managed to achieve successfully. The issue closest to my heart remains to encourage the inclusion of disabled people in training. All in all, since 2006, we have seen more than 350 people go through our training schemes. Last year we received the Inklusionspreis der Wirtschaft (Business Inclusion Award) for this work.

In terms of accessibility we have achieved quite a lot, with the help of Human Resources Board Member Wilfried Porth: we have lowered curbs so that wheelchair users can negotiate them, have equipped elevators for use by the disabled and fitted automatic doors, for instance. Over the last couple of years we have also been looking more and more closely at the issue of digital accessibility and this is something that will keep us busy for some years to come.

You also represent the interests of people with disabilities at a political level.

I'm the head of the disability representatives committee for the automotive industry. Together with Cologne University we have set up the project "Training without barriers", which is sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs here in Germany. We have ensured that this issue gains a certain political momentum and that other companies, too, start thinking about the inclusion of people with disabilities in their training schemes.

The Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has also got me involved in the revision of the Federal Participation Act. This regulates, for example, the rights and possibilities of representation for the severely disabled, accessibility and the right of self-determination for people with disabilities. I was called twice as an expert in hearings in the Bundestag – the German parliament - on behalf of those representing the interests of the severely disabled in companies. This involved working very closely with Andrea Nahles, who at the time was the Federal Minister for Labor and Social Affairs. That was a great time, highly instructive and successful.

What are the next targets that you have set yourself in the company?

I am very concerned that we should continue to drive forward the issue of digital accessibility. Not forgetting, of course, the day-to-day work of the 150 or so disability representatives that we have around the company: looking after those of our colleagues with some sort of handicap. They must not be left behind when it comes to digitalization. Roles that are categorized as light work are becoming more and more rare in our company. Yet many severely disabled people depend on being able to do such work. Our objective must be that everyone can ultimately retire from the company with their head held high. It's important to preserve their human dignity. This must be self-evident and is part of Daimler's culture.

Is accessibility also an area of focus for you in the private sphere?

I've been involved for many years now with the local council in Langwedel, with a focus on youth work and social policy. As such, I have worked to encourage inclusion in kindergartens and schools and to ensure barrier-free access for those such establishments in our own community.

What are your wishes for the future?

I would like it to become an implicit assumption that people with disabilities are an integral part of working life as well as "normal" life. Accessibility is a human right that we should be able to take for granted. I would really like to make my own role as disability representative superfluous.

  • At Daimler, the employment of severely disabled people has been guaranteed since 2002 by an inclusion agreement.
  • Daimler employs more than 9000 people with disabilities in Germany.
  • A particular area of focus for Daimler is the inclusion of young people with disabilities in its training schemes and apprenticeships. In 2006 an action plan covering the employment of severely disabled apprentices was drawn up in collaboration with the company's disability representatives.
    Since that date more than 350 people with a disability have joined the company on an apprenticeship scheme or as part of a course of study at one of Germany's Cooperative State Universities.
    Currently around 60 severely disabled apprentices are employed by Daimler in Germany (as at: 31.12.2019).
  • As part of the Diversity Challenge 2019 instigated by the 'Charta der Vielfalt' (Diversity Charter) initiative, a team of apprentices from Stuttgart implemented the project "Buddy@Daimler", which brought together colleagues with and without disabilities to spend a day together at work. The objective is to encourage a change of perspective and more sensitivity around each other.
  • Daimler received the Business Inclusion Award 2019 in April 2019. The prize is an initiative on the part of the Federal Labor Office, the Confederation of German Employer's Associations, the Diversity Charter and the 'UnternehmensForum' (a Germany-wide network of companies from all sectors), under the patronage of Hubertus Heil, Federal Minister of Labor and Social Affairs.
  • Our partners include more than 30 workshops for people with disabilities across Germany.